The long-term outlook of Toronto’s rookie bonuses

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:11 am by Jeff Veillette

Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a lot invested in their young core, both figuratively and literally. The team is looking to its youth to re-ignite the once great franchise, building themselves up from within through scouting and player development to create a sustainable environment for long-term success.

They’ve also made a lot of promises to players if they’re good and have brought in a few players who had those promises attached to them. Listed below is every potential performance bonus that the Leafs could end up paying over the next three seasons.

Player 2016/17 Bonuses 2017/18 Bonuses 2018/19 Bonuses
Auston Matthews 2,850,000 2,850,000 2,850,000
Trevor Moore 850,000 850,000 850,000
Mitch Marner 850,000 850,000 850,000
Andrew Nielsen 257,500 232,500 182,500
Dmytro Timashov 190,000 165,000 120,000
Kasimir Kaskisuo 850,000 850,000  
William Nylander 850,000 850,000  
Kerby Rychel 350,000 350,000  
Rinat Valiev 82,500 82,500  
Nikita Zaitsev 850,000    
Brendan Leipsic 207,500    
Viktor Loov 182,500    
Connor Brown 182,500    
Justin Holl 182,500    
Antoine Bibeau 120,000    
Sum 8,855,000 7,080,000 4,852,500

Of course, this doesn’t include drafted players who have not yet signed entry-level contracts, or players that the Leafs have not drafted yet. It also doesn’t take Jimmy Vesey into account; the Harvard College winger has been speculated to have the Leafs on his shortlist for months, and if Moore managed to get fully Schedule A bonuses and over a dozen teams are interested in signing him, I’d imagine he’d get at least $850,000, if not approaching the full $2.85 million.

Outside of $2 million of Matthews’ bonus, all of the players are presumed to be on “Schedule A” bonuses. These max out at $215,500 per individual bonus type, for a total of $850,000

Schedule A bonuses for forwards can be based upon ice time, goals, assists, points, plus-minus, making the all-rookie or all-star teams, and/or winning MVP at the All-Star Game. Defencemen can earn them in the same way (with lower bars set for production), and can also earn them for Blocked Shots and/or Points-Per-Game. Goaltender bonuses are based off of the same team recognition, or minutes played, GAA, SV%, wins, and/or shutouts.

Schedule B is little different. Players already have the capacity for non-capped bonuses paid by the league based off of awards voting and league-wide rankings in certain statistics, but teams can award up to $2 million in bonuses of their own structure for the same accomplishments.

Now, you might be wondering why all of these bonuses matter? Well, because they’re not accounted for in the salary cap until the end of the year, you can’t use them to pad space for Long-Term Injured Reserve, meaning that Nathan Horton won’t be able to bail the Leafs out if Auston Matthews is an elite forward at some point in the near future, for example. They also don’t put you over the cap at all until after the fact, hence why competing teams will sometimes end up with a planned overage that spills into next year because of the success of their rookies. Chicago and Pittsburgh were both guilty of doing this when they went on deep runs in Crosby, Malkin, Toews, and Kane’s entry-level years.

Heck, even the Blackhawks ran into that problem this year; they’ll be paying $3.07 million in overages next season for rookies Artemi Panarin ($2.8M) and Tuevo Teravainen ($215,500), and $100,000 to 35+ contract Michal Rozsival. Not a place that you’d like to be when you want to win.

This means that the Leafs could be forced over the cap at the end of this year, which they’d have to pay next. While they’re in better shape next season, it still puts them a bit closer to being in the same scenario in 2018/19, a year which they’d presumably be close to being competitive in. This is why creative solutions like using buyouts of expiring deals to effectively slice the overage in half next year are being floated.

Of course, it isn’t exactly doomsday right now. Looking at this year as an example, the only way the Leafs are going to close to the full $8.8 million of those performance bonuses is if a gang of opposing fans charge into the dressing room with baseball bats during the preseason and break the legs of every vet, followed by every rookie going on a tear and leading the team to the Stanley Cup.

But it’s not crazy to think that Matthews, Nylander, Marner, and Zaitsev could fill up most of their schedule A’s for a combined $3.4 million in damage, that Matthews could do a dent in his schedule B, and one or two of the other bonuses gets hit by a hair (Connor Brown playing 42 games, anyone?). It’s definitely not a situation to pretend doesn’t exist, even if it would have to take a lot of simultaneous good and bad luck to turn into a cap-tastrophe. It’ll be interesting to see if the Leafs make themselves some room to account for the situation before the season starts, or if they take the chance.